The Citizen: Age Well, Shelburne Craft School bring classes to older demographic

To increase student diversity, the Shelburne Craft School is partnering with Age Well to offer “Weaving Your Story,” a fibers class that allows older adults and caregivers a space to reflect and celebrate people, memories and specific key milestones that have shaped the course of their lives.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of the work that Age Well does, and we were hoping to have courses filled with people of greater diversity than we typically pull at the school,” the school’s executive director, Heather Moore, noting it has more than doubled its offerings and local partnerships in recent months. “We were looking to find students that had different socio-economic backgrounds.”

Age Well is the leading local area agency that advocates for the aging population in Vermont and is responsible for providing free nutritional counseling, case management and Medicare counseling.

“We’re tasked, in a very lovely way, with supporting older adults, 60 and over,” Tracey Shamberger, Age Well’s director of business development and communications, said.

Age Well’s services are free and its main focus is to keep older adult at home by providing nutritional counseling, case management and Meals on Wheels.

In the classroom

Fiber arts teacher Bradie Hansen, a licensed therapist, guides participants in creating an individual time capsule that represents the different facets of each of their stories.

“The idea here is that anybody coming to the class is invited to think about whatever it is that they are going through, what transition they’re going through, anything like that,” Hansen said.

Hansen came to fiber arts 15 years ago and found the meditative process of weaving row after row as a helpful mechanism for grieving the loss of her mother.

“I started to notice that most of the time I felt better or felt just really connected with myself and grounded after working on projects,” she said. “As a therapist, I couldn’t help but make the leap if I could start to build that into ways that I worked with people.”

The class creates space for participants to process difficult situations they may be going through while also reflecting on situations that have marked their lives, each symbolized by different yarn, charms or even articles of clothing brought from home that can be woven into the finished project.

“This helps bring an understanding of how they got from one place to another,” she said. “People are invited to use different symbols to mark things that happened along the way,” describing a piece she had created that has her mother’s favorite shirt sewn into it. “So, if someone’s going through a major life transition, that might have its own constellation of symbols. If somebody’s working on healing, and metabolizing grief, that will have its own symbols.”

Although the class is not exclusively centered around grief, that feeling is often one that surfaces the most.

“It’s like watching someone suddenly have something in their hands that they made that reflects their loved one who they longed for,” Hansen said.

Although the rhythmic motion of the weaving process often creates a group silence, Hansen said that more often than not the classroom is filled with laughter and storytelling. On top of helping participants connect to past selves and lives, it also has created an outlet for new relationships and connections to blossom.

“A woman I spoke with said that she’s been looking for a program to connect with other people who are also experiencing grief,” Shamberger said. “What better way than to create something beautiful, meaningful and memorable with a group of people who understand exactly what each other is going through.”

In addition to issues like housing and food insecurity, Shamberger said that one of the greatest threats to older adults is social isolation and lack of connectedness.

“If you are socially isolated, your health deteriorates, that’s just a fact,” she said.

Hansen explained that more than anything, she hopes to bring a level of playfulness to some of life’s hardest battles.

“I’ve worked to make sure that there are a wild amount of options for people. Anything from straightforward yarn to stuff that’s wicked thick or sparkly with glitter and 18 shades of purple. I want people to walk in there to feel happy,” she said.

Moore noted that the outcome from person to person can be drastically different, but the process in some ways mirrors the reality of life.

“Talking to participants, they didn’t know what the finished product would look like coming in,” she said. “Sometimes, they didn’t even know what it would look like halfway through, just like your life in some ways.”

By: Liberty Darr

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